The iPhone 12's all-new camera feature just appeared online in full detail. While we expected upgrades were on the way for Apple's latest flagship, now we know how one of them will work.
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Time-of-Flight is a type of LiDAR technology, which captures and scales an entire scene using infrared laser pulses. The time it takes for a laser to reach an object and return to the phone results in a Time-of-Flight (ToF) measurement.
This travel can map the depth of objects in a room, which may benefit things like camera focus or the placement of augmented reality objects. And when built into a front-facing camera, a ToF sensor could enhance biometrics such as Face ID, or even support certain kinds of air gestures.
Phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 10 Plus have these ToF sensors, too. Though they should allow for greater depth sensing, Samsung ditched the system for the Galaxy Note 20 and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The Note 20 Ultra uses a dedicated laser autofocus sensor instead, likely to avoid the focusing issues that impacted the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The newest iPad Pro 12.9 (2020) has a LiDAR system, so it's reasonable to believe Apple has figured out how to implement it for the iPhone without creating unintentional camera hiccups.
The patent in question is pretty technical, but worth a read if you're interested in learning more in how ToF is engineered.
iPhone 12 cameras: What we know
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Max are expected to feature a wide camera and ultra-wide camera, while the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max should feature an additional telephoto lens along with the ToF sensor described above.
Earlier camera leaks have pointed to Apple offering a new sensor shift image stabilization technology. Gyroscopes detect motion in every direction and a processor interprets this motion to activate an actuator on the sensor to compensate for it. The result is that these type of sensors can eliminate unwanted motion on any axis, including unwanted rolling motion.
It's unclear how these new camera arrays will change the of look on the new iPhone range, but we're not far from learning more directly from the source. Recent release date rumors point to the iPhone 12 launching in October.